Jun 15, 2021

A beginner’s guide to Flexible working

Flexible working is an umbrella term for working patterns that differs from the traditional mode of working. But what does 'being flexible' actually mean?

Flexible working can be regarded as an umbrella term for working patterns that differs
from the traditional mode of working. Giving employees the opportunity to work flexible has a lot of key advantages, especially when recruiting top-talents to one’s business. But what does flexible actually mean? In this blog post, we will cover the meaning of the term, the perception of flexible working among employees, key benefits, and some challenges to keep in mind.  

What is Flexible working?

Flexible working can imply many things and opinions on the meaning of the word vary across industry sectors and nations. In the most general sense, flexible working can be regarded as an umbrella term for working patterns that differs from the traditional mode of working (1). “Traditional” usually refers to fixed working hours (nine-to-five), and fixed work location (in office). Flexible working challenges this mode of thinking by making either working hours or working environment more flexible (1).

In summary, changes to when and where on the subject of office work is seen as a movement towards flexible work. For example, an employer can adapt flexible working by letting employees decide when they work, for instance, working some hours during the weekend to get time off on a Wednesday, or maybe work extended hours 4 times a week to work half the day on Fridays. Flexible working can also be adapted by changing where employees can work, such as partly-remote, completely remote or “choose for yourself”.

Flexible working and the Employee Experience

Giving employees the opportunity to work flexible has a lot of key advantages, especially
when recruiting top-talents to one’s business. In a recent study, 87% of employees stated that they wanted to work flexible to some extent, and 63% state that flexible working is already incorporated in their working model. Especially younger people in the workforce want flexible working environments, almost everyone (92%) says that it is something that they would prefer.  

The main benefits of flexible working according to the employees revolves around work/life
balance and saving time on commuting (2). Hence, the overall perception of flexible working is a positive one. With this in mind, companies will need to consider adapting a flexible working system of some kind to cater to the new demands and needs on the labor market. It is clear that the employee experience will be highly influenced by what flexibility options are provided by the employer.

The Benefits of Flexible working

As we touched on in the section above, Flexible working has some key benefits when it comes to work-life balance (3). Parents can more easily manage their care giving role without reducing work hours, household chores can be more effectively spread-out during weekdays and longer trips can be made when the option to work remotely is present.

The result of a more effective work-life balance can manifest in fewer sick leaves and lower stress levels (3). It can also improve the relationship between employees and management when more responsibility and trust is given to the employee. The main theory is that employees, when given the change, increase both motivation and productivity when they can decide for themselves how and when their part of the work will be executed.

The Challenges of Flexible working

In spite of the many benefits of flexible working, opinions are still divided on whether or not this can become a sustainable working model for the future. According to SHRM, managers can face challenges regarding communication, lack of control, upper-management resistance, and relevance.

Even though technology has greatly enhanced our ability to connect and converse, communication is still regarded as one of the main issues with flexible working (5). If the communication between management and employees is considered an issue today, flexible working will probably only complicate things. Depending on the company, some habitual patterns will need to be redefined and changed. Therefore, always consider communication and habitual patterns within your company to see what needs to be improved before adapting flexible working schedules.  

Managers also risk experiencing a lack of control. When employees can work whenever they want, it can make it more difficult to obtain an overall picture of a project's development and progress (5). If there are problems along the way that require extra supervision, it can easily go unnoticed without proper routines in place. How this problem manifests in real life depends on the company culture at hand and how managers are used to communicating with their employees.

Flexible working can also make it more difficult for the company to stay relevant towards their employees. It can for example make it more difficult for managers to understand what employee programs work and which do not, understanding the needs of specific groups in the workforce and keeping employees loyal to the company brand. Previous research has shown that working remotely can affect brand loyalty among employees negatively, read our
blog post about it here.

Flexible working – where do we go from here?

Flexible working is not only a new trend, but a growing requirement from employees world-wide. Companies today are faced with the challenge of weighing the pros and cons with being flexible when it becomes more and more evident that it will play an important role in both competitiveness and employee experience.

Before adapting to flexible working, consider these 4 questions.

  • How is the communication between employees and management today? Is there something that can be improved?
  • What tools do we have in place to manage and overlook our projects?
  • What technological tools are needed to make flexible working possible?
  • What are we seeking to gain from adapting to flexible working?

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